A lot of ink has been spilled about how important it is as a startup to pitch the right person in the partnership. Rightfully, I generally agree that one should try as much as possible to pitch someone who is a decision-maker or “check-writer”, or, face the additional challenge of having to navigate the politics of a VC partnership with the help of your advocate.
But I wouldn’t take this advice too far. There is often a question of whether it’s worthwhile to try to find the partner with the most mojo with the thought that that would be the best way to get to a successful outcome. The most mojo may be the partner with the most economics or control of the firm, or be the most experienced or “senior” partner, or just the one with the hottest hand at the moment.
It is true that partners in a firm are not all created equal. There end up being lots of variation in influence, and it’s true that some partners are generally in “prove it” mode and others are essentially the “kings” of their firm. But I think trying to get to the “king” is less and less important, as I’m finding that even VC’s with a lot of economic influence are realizing that in certain sectors (especially in web applications and services) their judgement is not nearly as sharp as some younger or less experienced partners. Besides, those are most likely the partners that you are likely to resonate the best with as an entrepreneur, and will likely be most helpful on a regular basis. I think you actually see that less experienced partners and investors often are the ones that catch the highest flyers in this space. Some examples:
Matt Cohler – Instagram (true, Benchmark is an equal partnership, but Matt was definitely in “prove it” mode relative to more experienced partners)
Roelof Botha – YouTube
Jeremy Levine – Yelp (special mention to Bessemer with some really excellent associates like Sarah Tavel who brought them Pinterest)
Bijan Sabet – Twitter, Tumblr
Now, it may seem really silly to think of some of these folks as “junior” or “less experienced” partners. But the reality is that when each of these folks led these blockbuster investments, their tenure at their respective firms (and in venture in general) was relatively short. Yet, they proved to make terrific investments and serve as impactful investors and board members.
All to say, I appreciate some of the concern in the market about focusing on decision-makers or the most influential partners in a firm. And it is indeed a risk that a less senior partner might leave the partnership for a variety of reasons. But I wouldn’t overthink it, and I would certainly take my time in cultivating a relationship and figuring out who you want helping you to build your company, regardless of the investor’s current mojo or star power.